1 month Blog

20 Years and Counting

So today marks my 20-year anniversary in testing. Yes, it’s 20 years since I walked through the door of a testing consultancy (IS Integration) to embark on a career in IT. And for those who are young (I can officially say that now), testing did exist 20 years ago – in fact, the dawn of professional testing started in earnest around then!

I came from a back drop of telesales, marketing roles and recent travels from Australia and knew I wanted to get into IT – because as a 21-year-old, I knew that IT was where the future lay! I barely had the ability to turn on a computer / games console, let alone truly understand the inner workings and complexities of a large enterprise. I had to learn fast in being able to market and sell test automation to retailers; and learn to speak in a whole new language (not French or German, but tech).

I remember the excitement of watching a PC with hundreds of cables sticking out of it, plugged into an EPoS terminal (with display units, scales, receipt printers etc.) making it work – it seemed like magic (but it was just great automation). On my initial meetings with clients, there was no room for giggling with excitement when it worked, I had to talk peripherals, cabling and the benefits of non-intrusive testing. It was brilliant fun.

Traveling up and down the country at 5am in the morning, with a boot full of EPoS tills and PC towers was the norm. It was an excellent introduction to IT – it was fraught with last minute changes, environments that didn’t work first time and people who weren’t quite sure what they wanted.

My career continued along the journey and started to extend into wider testing solutions – no longer hamstrung by EPoS tills and cables, I ventured out into selling testing consultancy – selling services instead of kit, solutions instead of software. It was a tough transition – I now had to sell the “dream”. On one day, I could be talking about WinRunner and Test Automation or LoadRunner and Performance Testing (these were pretty much the only tool choices in the early 2000’s) and the next day I could be talking about building a test team to deliver a programme of work in a financial services company.

All along the way, I built some fantastic relationships with very smart people who had a real passion for what they were trying to achieve in their businesses. And that was my buzz. My passion didn’t lie in scripting or coding; execution or reporting. It lay in the drive for things working and going well – and more importantly helping others make their solutions/products work as they wanted. I think “quality” is the reason why I do what I do. I love things to work as they should – I’d rather invest in something good than risk something that will break in 5 minutes.

After a really rewarding career in sales, I wanted a new challenge. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take on a global marketing role following an acquisition and I jumped at the chance. I moved from selling time and services to talking to people across the world about quality and testing. My team was distributed across India, the US and the UK and I even lived out in Philadelphia for a while; my days (and nights) were now spent eulogising about quality with the industry analysts, press people and of course clients.

I worked with some amazing people across the globe and, although it may sound sad, we had many late-night conversations about testing and the challenges that our clients faced. The passion that people have about other people’s software, never fails to amaze me – that is the true spirit of a test professional in my view. They have an unselfish bias towards making it work – they sacrifice family time to fulfil their passion and help others.

Eventually the quality and testing bug took a firmer grip on me. I had a dream as an 8-year-old to have my own business. It didn’t come from a family tradition, it just came from an inner drive and pull. Weird how I remember it so vividly, even now. And so, with a blank piece of paper, my business partners and I sat there with an open road ahead, with choices of what we could do – and yes, we chose testing.

That was when “ROQ” was founded. Our very own company that was aimed at addressing the re-balance of the large SI’s / Offshore companies manipulating the clients whom I held so dearly before. We wanted to make a difference – to make sure the customer was at the heart of everything, and to work on helping them achieve their goals and objectives. Maybe it is my old school thinking that the “customer is king” but it absolutely infuriates me that so many companies are treated so badly by their suppliers. I am not naive enough to say there isn’t a dog-eat-dog world, but, for me, there is a real satisfaction in being honest with your clients and achieving common goals.

It’s a small world and I have worked for many customers for many years – some repeatedly when they have moved company, or I have. I know that is only possible because they trust me. They know that what is committed to, will be delivered. They’ll accept mistakes as just that and they’ll support where they can.  They’ll also help us with new clients and help share our success.

It’s been an epic nine years with ROQ – its flown by. We started the company in the worst recession in history but survived and continue to thrive throughout the journey. We have built a team that spans the UK, worked out of locations from Melbourne to New York, with an odd stop in the Middle East and Europe, as well as from our Test Lab in Chorley. We have successfully delivered many global programmes of work, with complexities that would frighten most. And I’d hope, for those people who have worked for the company – past and present – they would agree that we make it fun and we genuinely care about our people and our clients.

So that brings us back to today. This week we announced our Net Promoter Score as 75% - according to the industry, that is “World Class”. And that makes me extremely happy and proud. After exactly 20 years, my drive to make things work and to make our customers happy is truly being realised.

And how do I see my next 20 years? 

If I am being totally objective, testing hasn’t changed massively for most of the last two decades – certainly not at the pace of other disciplines. However, that is changing dramatically - there is a fever pitch around testing and quality that I have not seen before - there is no option but to change the way we think about testing and more importantly, about how we deliver it. I think my views on that and what the future holds will need to wait for another post!

Stephen Johnson

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